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Besiktas’ Demba Ba (right), vies with Arsenal’s Laurent Kaschielny (left), during the UEFA Champions League play-off football match Besiktas vs Arsenal at Ataturk Olympic Stadium on Aug 19, in Istanbul. (AFP)
Arsenal Champs League hopes ‘survive’ in Istanbul cauldron Besiktas squander chances

ISTANBUL, Aug 19, (AFP): Arsenal on Tuesday survived the test of a raucous Istanbul crowd and a hugely-energised Besiktas side to leave Turkey with a goalless draw and their hopes intact of advancing to the Champions League group stage. In the first leg of the Champions League play-off, Arsenal failed to score the all-important away goal but will be relieved to have escaped from Istanbul with a 0-0 scoreline and still every hope they will qualify in the home leg.

However, the only sour note was they ended the match with 10 men as key Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey was sent off 10 minutes from time. The prospect of entry into the lucrative group stages of the Champions League dynamised Besiktas, who came third in the Turkish league last season under Croatian manager Slaven Bilic. Helped by the noisy, partisan home crowd, Besiktas caused the London side trouble from the start with new signing Demba Ba a potent threat.

Everything was at stake for Arsenal who came into the game with a 100 percent record in Champions League play-offs, having played 12 and won 12. For manager Arsene Wenger, failing to make the lucrative group stage of Europe’s elite club competition for a 17th consecutive campaign would be nothing short of a disaster. Wenger had said he was tempted to field German World Cup-winning trio Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski for the first time this season given the potential difficulty of the tie but in the end opted to leave them out.
 
Besiktas are in the process of rebuilding their mythical home stadium on the shores of the Bosphorus that separates Europe and Asia so the match took place at the cavernous 80,000 capacity Ataturk Olympic Stadium in the far less romantic suburbs of Istanbul. But the home fans treated Arsenal to the traditional — and notorious — Istanbul hostile welcome for foreign sides of deafening whistling, smoke flares and taunts as the handful of Gunners fans, who made the trip, looked on mutely. The home side had no problem creating chances but failed to land the clinical blow in front of goal that could have left Arsenal’s early season in tatters.
 
Arsenal appeared caught off their guard by a bright start by the hosts with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny’s defence tested repeatedly in the first minutes and Besiktas enjoyed much the best of the first 45 minutes. The quicksilver Senegalese Ba, Besiktas’s flagship summer signing from Chelsea, went close in the ninth minute with a volley that forced a fine save from Szczesny. But Arsenal sought to keep Beskitas in check by holding possession and taking the sting out of the crowd’s malice. Yet Besiktas kept looking to find holes in the Arsenal defence with Veli Kavlak forcing another save from Szczesny on the half hour. A lively end to the second half saw Ramsey test Tolga Zengin in the Besiktas goal while Ba sent a fine chance wide.
 
Besiktas began the second half with the same aggressive approach and a brilliant run by Olcay Sahan into open space ended with him curling his shot wide to cries of disbelief from the increasingly impatient crowd. But in a testy second half that lacked the sparkle of the first, Arsenal could also make no headway past the solid Besiktas defence and the Istanbul side scrambled to thwart English attacks before heading out on the break. In a frantic final few minutes as Besiktas clearly tired, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain hit the post for Arsenal and goalkeeper Zengin was lucky the ball did not rebound off him into the net. In Paris, Scottish champions Celtic will look to use their reprieve from Champions League oblivion and gain a positive result away at Slovenian titleholders Maribor on Wednesday in the first leg of their play-off.
 
Celtic were soundly beaten by Polish outfit Legia Warsaw in the third qualifying round only to regain their place in the competition thanks to an administrative error by their opponents. Legia went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in a bid to overturn UEFA’s original decision to punish them for sending on substitute Bartosz Bereszynski at the end of the second leg — with Legia leading 6-1 on aggregate — when he was deemed as being ineligible to play as he should still have been serving a suspension.
 
However, the CAS refused to make a quick ruling on the matter, leaving Celtic to focus their minds on the challenge of Maribor as they chase a place in the lucrative group stage. Celtic manager Ronny Deila at least can take his side — winners of the European Cup back in 1967 — to Slovenia in better heart than when they faced Legia as since then the champions have begun their domestic title defence with two wins, the second one a 6-1 humbling of Dundee United. “It looks like the players now understand what they’ve got to do so it was a good feeling for me,” said the 38-year-old Norwegian following Saturday’s victory. “We created a lot of things and kept the ball well and also our set-plays were better.” Despite the comprehensive nature of their win, Deila says there is still room for improvement. “We win together and we lose together but we still need to work on our performances,” the Celtic boss added.
 
“We showed today that we have a very good team and there is a lot of good quality.” Another former winner of the competition, the 2004 champions Porto, are also in action away in the first leg at French side Lille, who enjoy a proud record when it comes to the play-offs having never lost in three previous appearances. Porto do not represent as formidable a challenge as they did when they won the trophy nor indeed when under Andres Villa-Boas they won the Europa League in 2011 with an attack containing Colombian Radamel Falcao and Brazilian frontman Hulk.
 
Indeed Porto come to France having offloaded two key players, French central defender Eliaquim Mangala and experienced Belgian international midfielder Steven Defour, who left for Manchester City and Anderlecht respectively in recent weeks. Lille have begun their Ligue 1 campaign with a win and a draw but scored just the one goal through Belgian teenager Divock Origi, whose performances at the World Cup earned him a move to Liverpool before he returned to the French side on loan. Lille’s Danish international central defender Simon Kjaer, who along with his fellow defenders has not conceded a goal in the two Ligue 1 games, said that they were in a good condition to beat the Portuguese giants.
 
“Of course we will be ready for Porto, we have to be,” said the 25-year-old. “We have been excellent in terms of playing as a team even if offensively we could have been sharper. “We are confident for the next match, the team can only improve.” Villas-Boas and Hulk have been reunited at Zenit St Petersburg and both have not enjoyed the smoothest of rides since their halcyon days at Porto. However, the Russian side has made a sparkling start to their league campaign winning all four of their games and should have enough firepower for Belgian side Standard Liege.

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